Ange Postecoglou has transformed the mood at Tottenham Hotspur in his first three months as manager but faces the biggest test of his short reign over the next few weeks, starting with Saturday’s away trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Before the mayhem of Monday’s home defeat against Chelsea, Wolves away would have been viewed as another opportunity for Tottenham to underline their top-four credentials.
But that 4-1 reverse, Postecoglou’s first setback in the Premier League, could cost the north London club more than a return to top spot and the loss of three points.
A tumultuous derby ended with Tottenham having only four of their starting line-up left on the pitch.
They lost their central defensive partnership as Cristian Romero was shown a straight red card while Micky van de Ven had to be helped off the pitch after a hamstring injury.
Destiny Udogie was also sent off for a second yellow card after the interval and James Maddison, the fulcrum of Tottenham’s best start to a Premier League season, was also taken off after turning his ankle.
Add to that striker Richarlison saying this week he is to undergo pelvic surgery and some might think the wheels are falling off Tottenham’s bandwagon.
Bizarrely, however, the nature of defeat was greeted with optimism by Tottenham fans who watched their nine-man side go toe-to-toe with Chelsea and have several chances to equalise before stoppage time goals by Nicolas Jackson finished them off.
Playing a high line even after having their team decimated might have looked self-destructive, but it epitomised the philosophy that Postecoglou has instilled in his players.
“That’s just who we are, we would still be having a go with five players,” Postecoglou said.
The reality is, however, that with so much disruption to his starting line-up, a trip to Wolves, followed after the international break by a home game against a dangerous Aston Villa and the a trip to Manchester City, are three games that could potentially undo so much of Tottenham’s good work.
However, captain Son Heung-min, who had an early goal ruled out against Chelsea that would have made it 2-0, sounded the rallying cry.
“We made mistakes as a team, put ourselves in a tricky position. But hey, we will learn from these mistakes, we will bounce back, and we will be stronger together,” he said.
Victory at 14th placed Wolves in Saturday’s early kickoff would see Tottenham move two points clear of Manchester City at least until Sunday when the leaders travel to Chelsea.
Chelsea’s victory in which Jackson scored a hat-trick was Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest result since taking over at Chelsea in the summer, yet it was rather lost in all the mayhem.
A home game against City will perhaps say a lot more about whether or not Chelsea have turned a corner.
Tenth-placed Chelsea have struggled at home, winning only one of their six games at Stamford Bridge, that against promoted Luton Town back in August.
Manchester United’s late 1-0 victory at Fulham last weekend eased a little pressure on manager Erik Ten Hag but he found himself immediately back under the microscope on Wednesday after losing 4-3 at FC Copenhagen in the Champions League despite at one stage leading 2-0 thanks to Rasmus Hojlund’s double.
Anything less than victory against Luton on Saturday will have the alarm bells ringing again for the Dutchman.
Former midfielder Paul Scholes believes Ten Hag still has some credit left in the bank after last season when United finished third in the Premier League and won the League Cup.
“I think he has bought himself a little bit of time in that respect. He’s had a few injuries, but nine defeats in 17 games is not good enough,” Scholes said.
Fourth-placed Arsenal host Burnley on Saturday while Liverpool, who are third on goal difference, entertain Brentford on Sunday.